Today we remember Bourne man Thomas Benjamin Rhodes, who was killed on this day, 24th March 1918 serving with the 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment.
Thomas was born in the late spring of 1897 to Thomas Rhodes, born in Skirbeck and his wife Elizabeth Ayre Middleton, born in Dunsby.
Thomas and Elizabeth were married in Dunsby in 1889 and were living in Bourne before their first daughter was born in 1890.
They went on to have six children:-
• Elizabeth Middleton Rhodes, 1890, Bourne
• Mary Rhodes, 1892, Bourne
• Florence Jane Rhodes, 1894, Bourne
• Hilda Rhodes, 1895, Bourne
• Thomas Benjamin Rhodes, 1897, Bourne
• Helen Amy Rhodes, 1908, Bourne
Thomas can be found on the 1901 census living with his parents at 69 Woodview in Bourne. His father Thomas was away from home on Census night making Elizabeth the head of the household. It may be that Thomas snr was in the Army abroad. Thomas being the youngest child at 4 years old was not followed with another child until 1908 which could also point to Thomas’ absence serving with the Army.
By 1911 the census gives an address of 63 Woodview and now Thomas snr is home and working for the post office but also he is listed as an Army Pensioner aged 47. Thomas jnr is now 14 and there is a 9 year gap between hm and youngest sibling Amy.
Vey little is known about Thomas’ life between this and his service in the war. His full service records do not exist anymore and were most likely destroyed in the warehouse fire in the London Blitz along with 60% of all records.
The following has been put together from whatever sources can be found.
Thomas enlisted in Bourne, the medal Rolls would indicate initial service with the 8th Lincs, regimental number 23183. His next service was with the first South Staffordshire Regiment 40029. If we look at the regimental numbering of the 8th Lincs and also the war gratuity payment we can work out that his initial enlistment may have been around March 1916 when he was 18 years of age.
In January 1916 the Military Service act came into force and this stated that anyone over 18 who was unmarried in November 1915, would be eligible for conscription on 2nd March 1916. Although we cannot prove that this was the case it is most likely that Benjamin was conscripted into the Army and specifically the 8th Lincolnshire regiment.
With the extra number of men arriving for basic training in 1916 the Army formed the Training Reserve in September 1916. This took the pressure of home service and training Battalions of a specific regiment and allowed the men to form a pool of resource that could be utilised by any regiment or Battalion after their training had been completed. This was also a way of ensuring that the idea of Pals battalions of all men from the same town or occupation, was a thing of the past having learned the lessons of the Somme in July 1916.
We do know that in his time in the Army Thomas was posted to the 8th Lincolnshire Regiment, 1st South Staffordshire Regiment, 2/5th South Staffordshire Regiment and eventually to his final unit the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment.
There is every likelihood that even although Thomas attested to the 8th Lincolnshire, he could have been posted to a different regiment after training.
Other scenarios was arriving at base camp in the field of combat with your Battalion and then being assigned to another Battalion (usually same regiment) who were exhibiting a shortage of men.
The third possibility is a change of Regiment or Battalion after being wounded and. A period of convalescence in a base hospital or back in the UK.
Without doubt Thomas arrived on the Western from around August 1916 as this was taken from a later casualty report.
The dates and circumstances of his serving with two regiments and four different Battalions is unknown and therefore we can’t really piece together a service timeline for Thomas with the available information.
The next time we come across Thomas is on a casualty list posted in the Lincolnshire Echo on the 13th November 1917 lists Rhodes 40029, Pte T.B (Bourne). This was from the listing of the War Office Daily Casualty List for the 10th November 1917.
This entry when investigated shows that Thomas was serving with C company 2/5th South Staffordshire Regiment.
The Battalion Diary explains the movements of the Battalion prior to this casualty report-
25th September 1917 – Goldfish Chateau
3.0am – The Battalion arrived and headquarters established
23.30 – The Battalionmoved to take up positions East of Pommern Castle in support of the attack of the 177th Brigade which was to take place at dawn the following morning. Battalion Headquarters at Pommern Castle, Map Refrence Sheet Frezenburg D.19.a.3.2
26th September 1917 – Pommern Castle
3.0am – The Battalion arrived in position dug in prepatory to the attack.
5.50am – Zero hour for the 59th Division Attack. A & D Companies in front line. C Company mopping up and B Company, CarryingCompany. The Battalion passed through he Leicester Regiment who had taken the first objective and assisted the 2/4th Lincln Regiment in gaining the 2nd Objective. After the Capture of the final objective the Battalion dug itself in on a line running N.E from Primrose Cottages Map reference Sheet 28 NE D.2.b.30.65 to D.20.b.85.45 in support to the 2/4th Lincoln Regiment. All objectives of the 29th Division gained. 15 Prisoners and 1 machine gun captured by the battalion during the course of the objectives.
26th September 1917 – Shell Hole East of Primrose Cottage
18.0 – Very heavy enemy barrage put down over the whole of the captured ground.
19.0 – Enemy counter attack and 2 companies moved forward in support of the 2/4th Lincoln Regiment. The counter attack was broken up. 2 companies withdrew into their original positions. Battaliom headquarters were established in a shell hole 30 yards south of Primrose Cottage.
Casualties Killed 1 officer, 20 other ranks. Wounded 4 officers and 74 other ranks. Missing Nil officers and 8 other ranks.
Officers killed, Capt CVT Hawkins – Wounded, 2/Lieuts SA Eglington; JH Crowe; HVC Rooke; Capt AW Brown (CF)
Very heavy enemy shelling experienced during the day. Heavy enemy barrage from 18 till 19.45
21.0 – Battalion Withdrew to Cambrai reserve trench East of Wieltje map reference sheet 28NW C23 Central. Battalion Headquarters established in dug out at Junction Cambrai Reserve Trench and Wieltje – Gravenstafel Road. Casualties Killed Nil officers. Wounded 2 officers, 38 other ranks, missing Nil officers, 4 other ranks.
Officers wounded – 2/Lieut GE Stanley and Major JH Thursfield (at duty)
28th September 1917 – Wieltje Dugout
22.0 – The battalion was relived by the Canterbury Battalion New Zealand Infantry and relief proceeded by march route through St Jean and Ypres to Vlamertinghe no 2 area map reference sheet 28NW H.9.a.5.1
Thomas was serving with C Company the 2/5th South Staffordshire Regiment when on the 28th September 1917 he was taken to the No 12 Casualty Clearing station at Needinghem, the name the Medial corps called one of the CCS villages that were based around Proven. At this time Thomas was shown to have been in the field for 1 year and 1 month and was aged 20. He was suffering from “Contusions back W”. Bruising to the back is the most likely translation of this medical term.
Thomas was then transferred by Ambulance Train no 25 to Camiers, France, where he was admitted to the 18th General hospital. He would remain on Ward 6 of this hospital for 16 days receiving treatment before being moved to the No 6 Convalescent Hospital at Etaples.
Following convalescence it was usual for a man to then be assessed for active service again and if passed the would then be transferred a base depot and either re-join his previous Battalion or in many cases be posted to a Battalion that was in more need of replacements due to heavy casualty losses.
Which of these scenarios is correct for Thomas is unknown but the most likely one is that of being posted to the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment.
Later records would show that he served in 12 Platoon, C Company of the 2nd Battalion but once again we cannot be 100% certain when this transfer took place.
The only thing we can do is look at the entries in the Battalion Diary for the 2nd South Staffordshire Regiment to show his final movements in the days leading up to his presumed death.
18th March 1918 – Metz Divisional Support
On night of 18th/19th 2nd South Staffords relieved 17th Royal Fusiliers in support
19/20 March 1918 – Support Battalion
On the night of the 20th/21st, B&D Companies were relieved by two companies of the 17th London Regiment and A&C Companies were relieved by two companies of the 17th London Regiment. On relief Battalion moved to Rocquigny, marching to Metz and entraining there on light railway for Rocquigny.
21st March 1918 – Rocquigny
Battalion was in camp at Rocquigny.
At 5am orders were received for the Battalion to Stand To ready to move at five minutes notice. Remainder of the day was occupied b resting.
Battalion moved from Rocquigny at 5.30am and proceeded to a point in O2a, N.W. of Haplincourt, remaining there in. reserve until 4.30pm. From this point Battalion moved and took up a position in the Green Line, covering a frontage from approx I28.a.2.1 to I28.d.6.0
At this time enemy were reported to be holding a line running through Morchies in a south easterly direction.
23rd March 1918 – Halpincourt
Intermittent shelling by enemy throughout the day. Towards evening enemy were reported to be in Lesucquiere. Stragglers from the 51st and 25th Divisions came through our position and were held to strengthen the line if necessary.
Our own artillery were firing short and several shells dropped in our own lines.
7pm – Enemy reported massing behind Velu Wood.
8.50am – Enemy barrage opened on our front line, enemy observed massing behind ridge in I.23.dand 24.c
9.35am – Barrage lifted and enemy attacked front of Cheshire’s on our left.
10.30am – Cheshires driven back about 200yds, they were rallied and with assistance of a platoon of our own C Company made a counter attack, which was successful in driving the enemy back to the ridge in I.2.d & 24.c
2pm – Hostile attack launched against entire front. Troops well on our right obsucred returning in large numbers in direction of Haplincourt.
17th Royal Fusiliers on our right attempted to hold these men up and make a counter attack, but this did not materialise.
By this time Cheshires had fallen back, leaving our left flank in the air – Own C Company returned shortly after the Cheshires, apparently along the Lebucquiere-Fremcourt Road where they were apparently cut off as none of them returned to the Battalion.
Companies were then ordered to retire on Battalion HQ and fire was given by details of Battalion HQ
The Companies were then ordered to fall back in extended order and take up a position on the ridge running through O3a. Battalion retired in four lines at large intervals Lt Colonel Alban DSO remaining with the last party consisting of a few BHQ details and the MO & Signalling Officer.
By the time the last party left, the enemy had managed to place some machine guns and snipers in some posts and tents within about 200 yards if BHQ and this made the retirement from this position to the ridge behind very difficult, as about 700 yards of open ground covered by heavy machine gun and rifle fire had to be crossed. Shortly after leaving the position, Lt-Colonel Alban DSO was hit and Captain Williams M.C, medical officer, helped him along, when they had gone about 50 yards the C.O. was wounded again this time very seriously. The M.O. with the assistance of 2/Lt Bona, and a stretcher bearer caried the C.O the remainder of the distance, notwithstanding the heavy fire which was directed upon them.
The position along ridge in )3a for a short while until orders were given to retire on Beaulencourt.
Position was taken up on the S.E. of the village of Beaulencourt in support to some of the 51st Division. The enemy were at this time reported to be holding Le Transloy.
Oderes were received shortly afterwards for all troops to evacuate the position. The remnants of the Battalion almost ran into a party of the enemy from this point Battalion marched across country to Eaucourt L’Abbaye and took up a position along sunken Road in N13a, S.E. of Le Barque. This position was held from about 10pm to 5am.
The Battalion held position on the 26th and were relieved moving to Beaussart on the 27th and then into support at Englerelmer. The billets were shelled that night
Thomas Benjamin Rhodes was reported missing in the actions of the 24th March as described. C company were mentioned several times and it would have been a result of these retirement actions.
Killed, 2 officers, 10 other ranks
Wounded, 7 officers, 125 other ranks
Missing, 10 officers, 341 other ranks
To hospital (Sick), 3 officers, 54 other ranks
From hospital, 54 other ranks
Reinforcements, 153 other ranks.
The last newspaper entry we have for Thomas is a casualty list posted in the Lincolnshire echo on the 30th May 1918, this listed Rhodes 40029, Pte T.B. (Bourne) amongst the missing of the South Staffordshire regiment. This undoubtedly is 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire as this is after the official date attributed to his death.
Even though Thomas was officially posted as missing his family were actively looking for him. The Red Cross Prisoner of War Records show that on the 11th July 1918 is Thomas’ Mother, Elizabeth, made a representation to the Red Cross to find out if Thomas Rhodes, 12th Platoon, C Company 2nd South Staffordshire. had become a Prisoner of War. The response was that the soldier had not turned up at any prison came.
On the 25th September 1918 the Paymaster forwarded Thomas’ details to the pensions department and thus he was now presumed dead.
Once more on the 30th September 1918 the Red Cross received a letter from Thomas’ Sister Mary (Also know as May) making a further representation, once again asking if he had become a Prisoner of War. Once again the response was negative.
Thomas’ official date of death is registered on the 24th March 1918, the day that he went missing in the actions described in the Battalion War Diary.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
In memory of Private Thomas Benjamin Rhodes, 40029, 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment who died on 24 March 1918.
Remembered with honour, Arras Memorial
Thomas is also remembered on the Bourne War Memorial and also on the Triptych panels in Bourne Abbey Church.